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women have been restored to their just rank in society; sentiments of justice and humanity have been universally cultivated; and public opinion been armed with a power which renders every other both safe and salutary.
Many of these truths, which were once the derided discoveries of men of original genius, are now admitted as elementary principles in the reasonings of ordinary people; and are every day extending their empire, and multiplying their progeny. Mad. de Staël sees no reason to doubt, therefore, that they will one day inherit the whole earth ; and, under their reign, she takes it to be clear, that war, and poverty, and all the misery that arises from vice and ignorance, will disappear from the face of society; and that men, universally convinced that justice and benevolence are the true sources of enjoyment, will seek their own happiness in a constant endeavour to promote that of their neighbours.
It would be very agreeable to believe all this—in spite of the grudging which would necessarily arise, from the reflection that we were born so much too soon for virtue and enjoyment in this world. But it is really impossible to overlook the manifold imperfections of the reasoning on which this splendid anticipation is founded ;-though it may be worth while to ascertain, if possible, in what degree it is founded in truth.
The first ihing that occurs to a sober-minded listener to this dream of perfectibilily, is the extreme narrowness of the induction from which these sweeping conclusions are so confidently deduced. A progress that is in its own nature infinite and irresistible, must necessarily have been both universal and unremitting; and yet the evidence of its existence is founded, if we do not deceive ourselves, upon the history of a very small portion of the human race, for a very small number of generations. The proposition is, that the human species is advancing, and has always advanced, to a state of perfection, by a law of their nature, of the existence of which their past history and present state leaves no room to doubt. But when we cast a glance upon this high-destined species, we find this necessary and eternal progress scarcely begun in the old inhabited continent of Africa—stationary, as far back as our information reaches, in China—and relrograde, for a period of at least twelve centuries, and up to this day, in Egypt, India, Persia, and Greece. Even in our own Europe, which contains probably less than onetenth part of our kind, it is admitted, that, for upwards of a Thousand years, this great work of moral nature not only stood still, but went visibly backwards over its fairest regions; and though there has been a prodigious progress in England, and France, and Germany, during the last two hundred years, it may be doubled whether any thing of this sort can be said of Spain or Italy, or various other portions of this favoured quarter of the world. It may be very natural for Mad. de Staël, or for us, looking only to what has happened in our own world, and in our own times, to indulge in those dazzling views of the unbounded and universal improvement of the whole human race; but such speculations would appear rather wild, we suspect, to those whose lot it is to philosophise among the unchanging nations of Asia ; and would probably carry even something of ridicule with them, if propounded upon the ruins of Thebes or Babylon, or even among the profaned relics of Athens or Rome.
We are not inclined, however, to push this very far. The world is certainly something the wiser for its past experience; and there is an accue mulation of useful knowledge, which we think likely to increase. The invention of printing and fire-arms, and the perfect communication that is established over all Europe, insures us, we think, against any considerable fallmg back in respect of the sciences, or the arts and altainments that minister to the conveniences of ordinary life. We have no idea that any
of the important discoveries of modern times will ever again be lost or forgotlen ; or that any future generation will be put to the trouble of inventing, for a second time, the art of making gunpowder or telescopes—the astronomy of Newton, or the mechanics of Walt. All knowledge which admits of demonstration will advance, we have no doubt, and extend itself; and all processes will be improved that do not interfere with the passions of human nature, or the apparent interest of its ruling classes. But with regard to every thing depending on probable reasoning, or susceptible of debate, and especially with regard to every thing touching morality and enjoyment, we really are not sanguine enough to reckon on any considerable improvement; and suspect that men will go on blundering in speculation, and transgressing in practice, pretty nearly as they do at present, to the latest period of their history.
In ihe nature of things, indeed, there can be no end to disputes upon probable, or what is called moral evidence; nor to the contradictory conduct, and consequent hostility and oppression, which must result from the opposite views that are taken of such subjects : and that, partly, because the elements that are to be taken into the calculation are so vast and numerous, that many of the most material must always be overlooked by persons of ordinary talent and information ; and partly because there not only is no standard by which the value of those elements can be ascertained and made manifest, but that they actually have a different value to almost every different individual. With regard to all nice, and indeed all debateable questions of happiness or morals, therefore, there never can be any agreement among men; because, in reality, there is no truth in which they can agree. All questions of this kind turn upon a comparison of the opposite advantages and disadvantages of any particular course of conduct or habit of mind; but these are of very different magnitude and importance to different persons ; and their decision, therefore, even if they all saw the whole consequences, or even the same set of consequences, must be irreconcilably diverse. If the matter in deliberation, for example, be, whether it is better to live without toil or exertion, but, at the same time, without wealth or glory, or to venture for both upon a scene of labour and hazard—it is easy to see, that the determination which would be wise and expedient for one individual, might be just the reverse for another. Ease and obscurity are the summum bonum of one description of men; while others have an irresistible vocation to strenuous enterprise, and a positive delight in contention and danger. Nor is the magnitude of our virtues and vices referable to a more invariable standard. Intemperance is less a vice in the robust, and dishonesly less foolish in those who care but little for the scorn of society. Some men find their chief happiness in relieving sorrow—some in sympathising with mirth. Some, again, derive most of their enjoyment from the exercise of their reasoning faculties; others from that of their imagination; while a third sort attend to little but the gratification of their senses, and a fourth to that of their vanily. One delights in crowds, and another in solitude ;-one thinks of nothing but glory, and another of comfort; -and so on, through all the infinite variety of human tastes, temperaments, and habils. Now, it is plain, that each of those persons should pursue a dillerent road to the common object of happiness; and that they must necessarily clash and jostle with each other, even if each were fully aware of the peculiarity of his own notions, and of the consequences of all that he did in obedience to their impulses. It is altogether impossible, therefore, we humbly conceive, that men should ever settle the point as to what is the wisest course of conduct, or the best disposition of mind; or, consequently, take even the first step towards that persection of moral science, or that cordial concert and co-operation in their common pursuit of happiness, which is the only alternative to their fatal opposition.
This impossibility will become more apparent when it is considered, that the only instrument by which it is pretended that this moral perfection is lo be attained, is such a general illumination of the intellect as to make all men fully aware of the consequences of their actions; and that it is not, in general, through ignorance of their consequences that actions producing misery are actually performed. When the misery is inflicted upon others, the actors most frequenly disregard it, upon a fair comparison with the pain they should inflict on themselves by forbearance; and even when it falls on their own heads, they will generally be found rather to have been unlucky in the game than to have been unacquainted with its hazards; and to have ventured with as full a knowledge of the risks, as the fortunes of others can ever impress on the enterprising. There are many men, it should always be recollected, to whom the happiness of others gives very little satisfaction, and their sufferings very little pain,-and who would rather eat a luxurious meal by themselves, than scatter plenty and gratitude over twenty famishing cottages. No enlightening of the understanding will make such men the instruments of general happiness; and wherever there is a competition, -wherever the question is stirred, as to whose claims shall be renounced or asserted, we are all such men, in a greater or a less degree. There are others, again, who presume upon their own good fortune, with a degree of confidence that no exposition of the chances of failure can ever repress; and in all cases where failure is possible, there must be a risk of suffering from its occurrence, however prudent the venture might have appeared. These, however, are the chief sources of all the unhappiness which results from the conduct of man;—and they are sources which we do no not see that the improved intellect or added experience of the species is likely to close or diminish.
Take the case, for example, of war, -by far the most prolific and extensive pest of the human race, whether we consider the sufferings it inflicts, or the happiness it prevents,--and see whether it is likely to be arrested by the progress of intelligence and civilisation. In the first place, it is manifest, that instead of becoming less frequent or destructive, in proportion to the rapidity of that progress, our European wars have been incomparably more constant, and more sanguinary, since Europe became signally enlightened and humanised ; and that they have uniformly been most obstinate and most popular in its most polished countries. The brutish Laplanders, and bigoted and profligate Italians, have had long intervals of repose; but France and England are now pretty regularly at war, for about fourscore years out of every century. In the second place, the lovers and conductors of war are by no means the most ferocious or stupid of their species,—but for the most part the very contrary;—and their delight in it, notwithstanding their compassion for human suffering, and their complete knowledge of its tendency lo produce suffering, seems to us sufficient almost of itself to discredil the
confident prediction of those who assure us, that when men have attained to a certain degree of intelligence, war must necessarily cease among all the nations of the earth. There can be no better illustration, indeed, than this, of the uller futility of all those dreams of perfectibility, which are founded on a radical ignorance of what it is that constitutes the real enjoyment of human nature, and upon the play of how many principles and opposite stimuli that happiness depends, which, it is absurdly imagined, would be found in the mere negation of suffering, or in a state of Quakerish placidity, duloess, and uniformity. Men delight in war, in spite of the pains and miseries which it entails upon them and their fellows, because it exercises all the talents, and calls out all the energies, of their nature—because it holds them out conspicuously as the objects of public sentiment and general sympathy-because it gralifies their pride of art, and gives them a lofty sentiment of their own power, worth, and courage,-but principally because it sets the game of existence upon a higher stake, and dispels, by its powerful interests, those feelings of ennui which steal upon every condition from which hazard and anxiety are excluded, and drive us into danger and suffering as a relief. While human nature continues to be distinguished by those attributes, we do not see any chance of war being superseded by the increase of wisdom and morality. We should be prelly well advanced in the career of perfectibility, if all the inhabitants of Europe were as intelligent, and upright, and considerate as Sir John Moore, or Lord Nelson, or Lord Wellington,-but we should not have the less war, we take it, with all its attendant miseries. The more wealth, and intelligence, and liberty, there is in a country indeed, the greater love there will be for war; for a gentleman is uniformly a more pugnacious animal than a plebeian, and a free man than a slave. The case is the same with the minor contentions that agitate civil lise, and shed abroad the bitter waters of political animosity, and grow up into the rancours and atrocities of faction and cabal. The actors in these scenes are not the lowest or most debased characters in the country, but, almost without exception, of the very opposite description. It would be too romantic to suppose that the whole population of any country should ever be raised to the level of Fox and Pitt, Burke, Windham, or Grattan; and yet, if that miraculous improvement were to take place, we know that they would be at least as far from agreeing as they are at present; and may fairly conclude, that they would contend with far greater warmth and animosity.
For that great class of evils, therefore, which arise from contention, emulation, and diversity of opinion upon points which admit of no solution, it is evident that the general increase of intelligence would afford no remedy; and there even seems to be reason for thinking that it would increase their amount. If we turn to the other great source of human suffering, the abuse of power and wealth, and the other means of enjoyment, we suspect we shall not find any ground for indulging in more sanguine expectations. Take the common case of youthful excess and imprudence, for example, in which the evil commonly rests on the head of the transgressor,—the injury done to fortune by thoughtless expense-to health and character by sensual indulgence-and to the whole felicity of after life by rash and unsorted marriages. The whole mischief and hazard of such practices, we are persuaded, is just as thoroughly known and understood at present, as it will be when the world is five thousand years older; and as much pains are taken to impress the ardent spirits of youth with the belief of those hazards, as can well be taken by the monitors who may discharge that office in the most remote fulurity. The truth is, that the offenders do not offend so much in ignorance as in presumption. They know very well that men are oftener ruined than enriched at the gaming-table; and that love marriages, clapt up under age, are frequently followed by divorces: but they know too that this is not always the case; and they fialter themselves that their good luck and good judgment will class them among the exceptions and not among the ordinary examples of the rule. They are told well enough, for the most part, of the excessive folly of acting upon such a presumption in matters of serious importance :--but it is the nature of youth to despise much of the wisdom that is pressed upon them, and to think well of their fortune and sagacity, till they have actually had experience of their slipperiness. We really have no idea that their future teachers will be able to change this nature; or to destroy the eternal distinction between the character of early and mature life and therefore it is, that we despair of the cure of the manifold evils that spring from this source; and remain persuaded, that young men will be nearly as foolish, and as incapable of profiting by the experience of their seniors, ten thousand years hence as they are at this moment.
With regard to the other glittering curses of life—the heartless disipations—the cruel seductions—the selfish extravagance-the rejection of all interesting occupation or serious affection, which blast the splendid summit of human fortune with perpetual barrenness and discomfort, —we can only say, that as they are miseries which exist almost exclusively among the most polished and intelligent of the species, we do not think it very probable, at least, that they will be eradicated by rendering the species more polished and intelligent. They are not occasioned, we think, by ignorance or improper education ; but by that eagerness for strong emotion and engrossing occupation, which still proclaim it to be the genuine and irreversible destiny of man to earn his bread by the sweat of his brows. It is a fact, indeed, rather perplexing and humiliating to the advocates of perfectibility, that as soon asa man is delivered from the necessity of subsisting himself, and providing for his family, he generally falls inlo a state of considerable unhappiness; and, if some fortunate anxiely, or necessity for exertion, does not come to his relief, is generally obliged to seek for a slight and precarious distraction in vicious and unsatisfactory pursuits. It is not for want of knowing that they are unsatisfactory, that the persists in them, nor for want of being told of their folly and criminalily ;- for moralists and divines have been occupied with little else for the best part of a century; and writers of all descriptions, indeed, have charitably expended a good part of their own ennui in copious directions for the innocent and effectual reduction of that common enemy. In spite of all this, however, the malady has increased with our wealth and refinement, and has brought along with it the increase of all those vices and follies in which ils victims still find themselves constrained to seek a temporary relief. The truth is, that military and senatorial glory is neither within the reach, nor suited to the taste, of any very great proportion of the sufferers; and that the cultivation of waste lands, and the superintendence of tippling-houses and charity-schools, have not always been found such effectual and delightful remedies as the inditers of godly romances have sometimes represented. So that those whom fortune has cruelly exempted from the necessity of doing any thing, have been led very generally to do evil of their own accord, and have fancied that they rather diminished than added to the sum of human misery by engaging in